Ferries to Fjords

Jan 13, 2024


It took us about a year to find the time to finally pull the trigger on our first proper trip. The route, Walter Peak Station to Milford Sound. It was planned within about fifteen minutes over the phone with Carlos but that was about as far as we got for quite a while. Originally the plan was between Carlos and I, but when a good friend of ours Tim realised his knees were too old for running we thought it would be a great time to persuade him to buy a gravel bike and join the party. From there the three of us and our trusty Surley steeds put a date on the trip and got to planning. Most of our time from then on was spent looking at epic and out of reach setups and watching bikepacking videos from the bizarre to the downright nuts.

Day before the trip: it was a long night of packing. We leave tomorrow bright and early. The boys have been sorting their gear well into the dark hours. What do we need? Where do we put it? I hope we have enough snacks. I think we did a pretty good job of it. It was a restless sleep, my hangover not aiding the situation, but we were all excited for morning. It wasn’t just the ride that we looked forward to, four days of unpressured pedalling gives us a chance to take a break after the tough winter just been, a change from normality and time to reconnect with mates.
Day 1: An early start to catch the Walter Peak ferry came with crusty eyes and foggy brains. A few things forgotten and a couple items lost saw us there with only a few  minutes to spare. Pies in hand and we were off. We weren't really too sure what the first day would have in store for us. We knew roughly how many km we had to do but nothing about the country we would bike through. The start of the ride was a roaring success. Tim had made it 20m before forgetting that he was clipped in and toppling to the ground like a domino. Made for a pretty good laugh before setting off for the ride. We were all still figuring out parts of our bikes that were new additions. I think Tim got the toughest addition with clipless shoes. Gravel roads were the goal of the day. Weaving our way for 76 km through rolling lush green farm country around pristine lake Wakatipu then making our way south away from the water's edge and under the rugged Eyre Mountains. The road winds through low country as the river next to us flows in the opposite direction, we climb hill sides high above the river to meet the source of the water that fills it. The high cloud gave us reprieve from the sun's rays and cool riding conditions for the first day. Food management was our first lesson learned. It can be hard to remember to eat when you're distracted by the grandeur of the place you're in. Heads on a swivel as views continuously change and one of us points out something new to be seen. Tim learnt this the hard way when his muscles decided to cramp up on pretty much every hill after we had completed the main climb. Stretch the quad and the hamstring goes. Ease the hamstring and ‘BOOM’ there goes the quad. It's hard to help a mate who's cramping up off his bike when the other two of you are rolling around in hysterics. Day one was a success. We found a great camp spot hidden across a swing bridge tucked into native beech forest. The evening consisted of throwing rocks off cliffs, tipping over dead standing trees and sitting by the fire having some good yarns. We still couldn't believe the trip was actually happening. That the timing had just worked out.

Day 2: We were up and ready to go. A bit later than we planned but then again it's not like we had anything else to do besides bike. Day two would take us 104 km from our camp spot south towards SH 94 then along the Southern Scenic route to Manapouri and up to Te Anau. Battling a headwind for the first 30 or so km wasn't the nicest way to start, but off we went. The gravel road meanders through green pastures and the mountain ranges tail off. A speaker strapped to the front of the bike with Country music blasting let us put our heads down and punch out the first part of the morning. The country around us is always changing slightly. You just had to keep looking out for it. Taking it back 20 years to childhood road trips our games of eye spy commenced. And helped us pass the time as the headwind blew. Honestly a great way to get you through the more temper testing conditions. The skies cleared and the wind dropped as we hit the Southern route, putting us through lush rolling foothills under jagged peaks of the Takitimu Mountains. Well there goes the next one, Carlos’ turn to take the plunge. Feet clipped in and a hard road beneath him. Probably the slowest fall we had seen on the trip. Surely a  real test of friendship is how hard your mates laugh when you deck it. Gravel was soon traded for smooth tar seal and quiet roads. The speed picked up and we were off. Fast riding, crappy wheelies and berm bashing all the way to Manapouri just in time to try to eat the biggest damn bowl of fries we had ever seen. With enough salt in our system to clog your arteries we pushed through the last stretch on the lake to lake trail to Te Anau. A good final sweat fest to top off what would be our longest day. Booked a campsite for the night, had a well needed shower and off to the pub for a refreshing brew and feed. Tim, I hope you enjoyed the slog for your Birthday. You deserved those beers!

Day 3: Up early to beat the buses. Day three would take us from Te Anau up into the Eglinton Valley towards Lake Gunn. A smooth and straight forward 86 km ahead of us made for a very accomplishable day. Starting early for this day is somewhat key. You can hear the rumble from behind like a stampede of Buffalo. The buses had arrived. One by the other they would pass, carting tourists into Milford Sound. About an hour of buses, then the silence comes. As we leave town and work our way up the valley on SH94 we bike around Lake Te Anau for a bit as the low hanging cloud obscures our view. A slower start with a couple hiccups. We found out that if you get enough sealant on your valve whilst pumping a tire, the core just comes straight out when you try to twist off the pump. God dammit we pumped up that tyre 3 times before that core stayed put. Pumped up to pressure and on our way again,  we move from lake to valley, the cloud slowly burning off revealing the peaks above. Large snow capped mountains sit above a lush green valley of native beech forest and open meadows. Spring felt like it was truly here. We pull into a  small side road halfway through the day; closed to traffic due to previous flooding in the river but still wide enough for a bike. We take it to our lunch spot. On the menu, freeze dry meals worthy of a Michelin Star accompanied with some old bird watching and six keen eyes. Without phones you get into some real humble shit. Food in our bellies we hop back on our bikes and continue along the road. After the initial rush of traffic in the morning the roads were eerily silent. Probably a good thing considering we weren’t particularly focussed on traffic. Luckily, when we’d been in the sun too much we seemed to hit the shade of the Beech trees just in time before the burn kicked in and when the shade became too cold the road gave us a climb to warm back up on. We finished the day off close to Lake Gunn campsite. A warm down spin through a small walking track found us at the shore of Lake Gunn. Decision made; shoes off, bikes on the shoulder and across the river we go to find camp. Attacked by sandfly after sandfly we sit in awe of the view ahead. A crackling fire, a mirror like lake and trout feeding just off the shore made for one of the most picturesque camp spots I’ve ever been. Another evening of phone free fun. Carlos and I watched for an hour or more as Tim made spears out of sticks and attempted to get us dinner. It was amusing to see but freeze dry it was.


Day 4: The final push. What a shitty wake up. A cool and clear night left the outside of my bivvy soaked and the condensation from me left the inside even worse. Sleeping bag soaked through, thank god that was the last time I needed it. I open up my bivvy to see the boys wrapped up. They choose to sleep out under the stars. You could have thought it rained all night by the state of their bags. We were all wet. Light the fire and get warm then we'll get into cooking. Fires out, winds picked up and yup, we’re out of gas. I probably shouldn't have been using the stove as a fire starter but gotta learn somehow. OSM for breakfast and we might as well just get started. Wet feet, cold toes and a blustery head wind made for a less than ideal start. It was a shorter day today, the only goal was to make it to Milford. The first 10 or so km were grim; cold and windy didn't put a smile on anyone’s face. To be honest it's probably good that we didn't look into the route too much as it left us with some fun little surprises. After we passed the divide we had a great unexpected hill bomb into the Hollyford Valley. This turned our morning around. Just like the day before, low hanging clouds burn off to show the mountains ahead. As we slowly work our way up the head of the Hollyford river towards the Homer tunnel and the clouds part our necks ache in pain as they are kinked up to see the high peaks. Towering walls of rock stand well over 1000m right above us topped with snow and glacial ice. Old remnants of landslides and avalanches from the winter before laid waste to forest below. It was a quiet morning being well ahead of the traffic to come. Each climb a little bit steeper and longer than the one before. Quiet enough to hear the huffing and puffing of all of us lugging heaving bikes up the hills. Carlos and Tim had never been to Milford before. All of this country is a new experience for them. I've never seen those two with such a sense of awe. That's one of the great things about being on a bike, especially in a place like that. You can take so much more in than sitting in a car. You can smell the air, hear everything around you and stop wherever you want to look at whatever you want. Their smiles so wide you could be knocked off your bike if you got too close to them. For me it was like seeing country I had been in multiple times from a whole new set of eyes. Top of the final climb we found ourselves waiting at the light to go through the Homer tunnel. Lights go green but we wait for all the traffic to pass. We want the road to ourselves. We roll down through the tunnel to be greeted with the seemingly impassable walls of rocks that head the Cleddau River which takes you to Milford sound. The final push to our destination. 30 minutes of descent. Barely a pedal stroke needed. The cold air kepping our eyes watered the whole way down. A small cruisy pedal to finish things off and that was it. Feeling as though the trip had just begun we found ourselves at the end, sitting on the shore looking out at yet another stunning vista. It would be rude to finish there though. We were lucky enough to have been given some tickets for the day cruise out into the sound for the three of us and also Tim's girlfriend Ruby who made the mission to pick us up at the end of the ride. A knight in a shining Subaru. 



It's hard to put into words what this trip was truly like. I don't think we could have set our expectations high enough to match what we gained from it. To have a chance to turn off and tune out from the everyday and to be able to spend that time with two great mates was worth it in itself. I write this knowing full well that I can't put across everything we did or how we truly experienced it but I can come away from it knowing that everyone would be better off taking some time out, getting together with some friends and going on an adventure. Just set a date. The rest will work itself out.

To Carlos and Tim.

Thank you for the adventure. Same time next year?

Special thanks to Albert, Tim and Carlos for sharing their trip with us.

Words by Albert Todd, Photos by Carlos Garcia Knight


Comments (1)

Another epic adventure – so good to read about it and see the photos. Love what you guys do. The road into Milford Sound is almost more spectacular than the... Show more